Stately, comfortable ― and occasionally, a ‘Matrix’ moment

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Stately, comfortable ― and occasionally, a ‘Matrix’ moment

At a glance, the new BMW 530i is like a sharp-dressed man.
His stately presence is hard not to notice on streets full of lower, skinnier, less polished cars. The golden upper segments of the headlights, which function as blinkers, look like the sharp eyebrows of a fastidious, sophisticated gentleman who understands that his immaculate suit must come with the finest silk lining.
With the gentle push of a button on the remote-control key, this sedan silently prepares your way, not only with an unlocked door but with a warm, welcoming glow inside. The interior, with cream beige carpeting, lining and leather and a glossy mahogany finish, is designed with a lot of room. The design of the dashboard, door panels and seats suggests waves in motion, as though this were the control room of an ocean liner.
The front seats, which look like ergonomically sculpted leather armchairs, are science put to work, optimizing comfort for every human curve. The control board to the side of each chair is full of levers and buttons. To snugly fit any body, each segment of the leather-bound seat can slide up or down, stretch forward or lean backward, with impressively smooth adjustments. When the chair moves, so do the side mirrors, readjusting the driver’s view. What could be more convenient?
The BMW 530i, which was officially unveiled in Korea last month, is part of the new BMW 5 Series imported to Korea. Following in the wake of the 7 Series, the 5 Series boasts a feature called an “iDrive” controller. Featuring a 6.5-inch-wide color monitor in the dashboard, the system is controlled either by small buttons on the steering wheel or by a single toggle above the spacious console area between driver and passenger.
With a push or turn, the monitor switches from Entertainment to Climate to Communication to Navigation. Entertainment means a choice between AM and FM radio and CDs (a 7-CD changer); you can set your favorite speaker mode. The Communication and Navigation features are not available in Korea, but Climate at least can help you decide the exact flow and temperature of the air inside, as well as how much you’d like your seats warmed.
The sunroof overhead is double-layered, automatic and multi-functional. The outer glass panel lets the natural light in; the inner panel can minimize noise. I can adjust how I want the roof to be open ― all the way, halfway or open at an angle.
Once inside, I rest in my customized armchair, breathing personally optimized air at exactly 22 degrees centigrade (72 degrees Fahrenheit) and listen to Mary J. Blige all day. This is a comfort zone to which neither words nor photographs can do justice.
On the road, this BMW 530i ― with six-speed Steptronic automatic transmission ― is smooth. The small shark’s tail on the rear roof perhaps suggests that the car was designed for a gliding experience, as though on the surface of a body of water.
Both accelerator and brake are pleasantly soft and smooth, as if they weren’t even there. On the usually bumpy streets of Seoul, I experience a relatively smooth ride.
According to a BMW Korea representative, the 530i boasts 231 horsepower and a maximum speed of 250 kmh (155 mph), and it can reach 100 kmh in 6.9 seconds. So I floor it on the reasonably busy highway, to see how it works.
Then something unbelievable happens: The RPM needle bounces to 6,000, and I see myself shoot forward like a bullet. The rest of the world ― taxis to my left, small Korean sedans to my right ― is suctioned backward, except for me, my car and the empty road ahead. Wow ― have I ever experienced a “Matrix” moment in reality?
I’m hooked. After a while, I realize that the average speed of my driving is 90 kmh in the city, 140 kmh on highways. I’m annoyed that there are so many speed control cameras in the city. I also realize that this car makes me less self-conscious than some flashier vehicles do; I am constantly devoting attention to what I can do with the car’s toy-like functions, rather than to whatever reaction the car’s getting outside.
Parking this relatively large sedan is made surprisingly easy with the help of sensors at all four corners of the car. When the car enters a parking mode, the iDrive monitor displays a diagram of the car and the distance from any objects nearby. Three color bars, in green, yellow and red, let me know when to go or to stop. Red with a beeping noise, for instance, means the car is very close ― within about 30 centimeters (12 inches) ― to a wall or another car, though the system can’t sense pedestrians or animals. (Speaking of safety, airbags are everywhere inside: in the door panel, in the dashboard, in the frame of the windshield and in the steering wheel.) For parking, this is very handy, but mastering the details of this somewhat complex iDrive system might take a while, and certainly it isn’t something you’d want to learn while driving.
With such technology, though, one can envision that the accident-free utopia of the future might come to pass. Right now, the car can only sense inanimate objects when parking, but such a personally customized, artificially intelligent machine might one day be able to show us not only how to get to where we’re going, but also how to avoid danger on the way.
The price of the BMW 530i is 88.5 million won (about $73,000) in Korea.

by Ines Cho
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